E-Cigs: Friend or Fiend?

By Jake Thorson, CHMM  CHESS, Inc.

Minnesota prohibits smoking in all indoor workplaces, but what about vaping, or electronic cigarettes? Well, a 2014 state law prohibits e-cig use on government property and at child care and health care facilities. Hennepin and Ramsey Counties have extended the ban to all indoor workplaces. Some municipalities have also banned e-cigs in workplaces. But what if your county and city hasn’t and you have employees that want to use e-cigs? Should you allow it?

Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigs don’t cause tar build-up in users’ lungs, but they haven’t been around long enough to determine their health effects with any degree of certainty. And aside from health risks, there is another issue with e-cigs, which comes from their design: they are meant to help people quit smoking. As a result, they contain hazardous wastes! The batteries that vaporize the liquid are not allowed in checked airline luggage because of their hazards, and throwing the batteries in the trash, at work or at home, is illegal. So does your facility have a collection program? If you allow vaping, you should. If the batteries are recycled, they’re a universal waste and not a hazardous waste – a big difference to regulators and your bottom line!

But there is still another hazard: the cartridges. These little capsules are designed to deliver nicotine-containing smoke without all the tar. And there’s the primary hazard: nicotine. With some vaping liquids containing up to 42 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter, two drops is enough to send an infant to the Emergency Room. Studies have shown that three drops (just 6 mg) will kill a baby. That is why nicotine is specifically listed as an acutely toxic waste. That’s why unless a container is cleaned to EPA regulations, it’s not considered empty and must be treated the same as a container with the chemical still in it.

So… what should we do?

Don’t smoke or vape. But if employees must, then set up smoking stations away from public entrances, occupied spaces, walkways, and building air intakes. Provide a smokers’ station where employees can dispose of cigarette butts (which are unregulated refuse). For vapers: we recommend a policy that states employees must use the same smoking stations and, further, take home whatever smoking materials they bring in.

Your alternative is to collect the vape cartridges and dispose of them as hazardous waste… and because it is acutely toxic it won’t take many before your facility will be a Large Quantity Generator.

For more information, see the MPCA fact sheet on e-cigarettes and nicotine waste at https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/w-hw4-65.pdf

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Aerosols: A Universal Waste?

by Jake Thorson, CHMM, CHESS Inc.

Do you spray aerosols at your facility? Brake cleaner? Paint? Lubricants? If you do, how do you dispose of them?

If you are at a facility in Minnesota and puncture your aerosol cans to dispose of them as scrap metal, you will no longer be allowed to puncture the aerosol cans after January 1, 2018 (the MPCA just extended the deadline a year. It had been 2017). The new policy reflects a decision by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to reverse a previously allowed practice. Puncturing aerosol cans has never been a technically legal method of disposal for aerosol cans, but it was permissible – again, that is changing.

Instead companies will be permitted to treat aerosol cans as a universal waste. The cans will have to be collected for disposal in a vented drum with either their caps in place or the can’s pin removed (to prevent leaks and pressure buildup in the drums). The aerosol cans can then be shipped off as a universal waste (if your waste company allows), using a shipping paper or DOT bill of lading. The aerosol cans will not have to be recorded on your annual waste reports, and you won’t have to include a hazardous waste manifest.

Sounds easier, right? Well, not quite… The MPCA has not yet made aerosol cans a universal waste by rule. Instead, they are rolling out the policy until the rule is officially promulgated in the spring of 2017 (hopefully).

What does that mean?

If you are a large quantity generator, the rule may not be in place in time for the first of your twice annual waste reports to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Until the aerosols are classified as  universal wastes by rule, any aerosol cans must be shipped and manifested as hazardous waste. The EPA will identify any aerosols shipped as a universal waste as done in error.

The same will apply for all generators big and small if the rule is not passed by the end of 2017.

If you have a facility in the one of the MPCA-delegated jurisdiction seven metro counties (Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Carver, Dakota, Washington, and Anoka) the county must adopt the new MPCA rule for you to handle the spent aerosols as a universal waste.

So what can you do?

Stop puncturing aerosols as of January 1st. We recommend storing and labeling all spent aerosols as “Hazardous Waste: Spent Aerosols.” The aerosol cans should be shipped as a hazardous waste until the rule is finalized (and adopted, if in the seven-county metro area).

Even when the rule is finalized, if you ship the spent aerosols outside Minnesota for disposal, the waste will need to be identified and manifested as “hazardous waste,” as that is the federal requirement – and that is not changing.

Post note: The MPCA has a new fact sheet on aerosol cans.

 

 

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Electronic Submittal of OSHA Logs – Coming Soon to a Computer Near You

OSHA published its newest standard today – a requirement for employers to electronically submit injury data to OSHA. OSHA plans to publish that data on its website.

The important details
Establishments with 250 or more employees will be required to submit their OSHA 300A summary to OSHA, electronically, as of July 1, 2017.

As of July 1, 2018, those establishments will also have to submit information from their OSHA 300 logs and certain information from injury reports (Form 301).

Personal data, such as the employee name and address and who treated the employee, shouldn’t be submitted. OSHA intends to remove that information if it is included.

The rule is by establishment, not company. So a company with a thousand employees spread through ten different facilities of 100 employees each wouldn’t fall into this category.

Industries that are not usually required to keep OSHA injury and illness logs now (such as insurance firms, engineering firms, and nearly all schools) will not have to submit.

Certain establishments with 20 or more employees will be required to submit their OSHA 300A summary to OSHA, electronically, as of July 1, 2017.

These establishments are those in industries with higher injury rates (for those who want details, DART [days away/restricted] above the three year private sector average for companies required to keep OSHA logs).

The industries include but are not limited to construction, manufacturing, utilities, wholesale trade, nursing homes and hospitals, grocery stores, amusement parks, and more. Automotive repair facilities are not included. Nor are government entities.

OSHA may ask certain companies to submit. If so, even a small facility will need to comply.

The data will need to be submitted by March 2 each year, for the previous year. Businesses will still be required to post their OSHA 300A summary in their facility.

Employers need to tell employees how to report work related injuries or illnesses. Along with that, they must tell employees that they have the right to report and won’t be discriminated against for reporting.

This may end up being the most controversial part of the new rule.
Disciplining an employee who violates a legitimate work rule is allowed. But disciplining someone for violating a rule that says “maintain situational awareness” may be considered retaliatory, because that’s too vague a work rule. Likewise, requiring post-accident drug testing for all injuries, including those where drugs clearly could not be a factor, might be discriminatory. How that actually plays out will be determined case by case.

States with state OSHA plans have six months to adopt this rule.
Local governments aren’t included under the federal rule, because federal OSHA doesn’t have jurisdiction over them. But they may be included under the state adoption of this rule. A city with 250 Public Works employees in one shop would be required to report. But a city with 250 employees spread out over two or more establishments would not need to submit.

Who will have access to the data?

It will be posted on OSHA’s website, available to anyone – just as records of OSHA inspections are available.

Why is OSHA requiring this?

  1. To encourage employers to abate hazards
  2. So OSHA can identify those who really need to benefit from OSHA’s consultation service
  3. To better target enforcement efforts
  4. In hopes that employers will try to improve workplace safety and health, to support their good reputations
  5. To allow employers to compare themselves to others in the same industries
  6. Because it will allow job seekers, investors, and even members of the general public to decide what companies they want to work with and what companies they want to avoid.
  7. To improve research on the demographics of workplace injuries
  8. And OSHA even suggests that workplace safety and health professionals might use the data to decide what establishments would benefit from their services (in other words – market research!)
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Silica Standard – At Last!

OSHA published a new standard for crystalline silica today. It’s about time. The standard changes the exposure limit from a complicated formula based on measuring the percentage of quartz in a sample to 0.05 mg/m3, the level NIOSH recommended forty years ago.

We’ve known, for thousands of years, that fine silica dust can damage the lungs. It’s considered a known cause of lung cancer. It’s been linked to kidney disease, and even to an increased risk of tuberculosis. Given the ubiquity of silica, we know we won’t eliminate exposure. But we can control exposure.

Silica shows up in concretes and mortars. It’s naturally present in rocks and sand. It’s a crucial component of glass. Fracking uses silica. The list of industries affected by the standard range from construction to foundries to jewelry production. OSHA estimates over 100,000 workers in general industry and maritime and over two million construction workers are affected by the new standards.

For general industry, the standard is similar to those for other hazardous chemicals, such as lead or hexavalent chromium: first, determine if workers can be overexposed. If they are, use engineering controls and work methods to reduce their exposure. Use housekeeping measures to limit dust. Have a written exposure control plan. Provide medical surveillance. Train workers on the hazards and on ways to reduce their exposure. Use respirators if other control measures aren’t enough.

The construction standard doesn’t require monitoring. Instead, employers can use a control measure that OSHA believes is effective, one specified in the standard.  Those typically incorporate water or dust collection systems to capture or suppress dust.  But employees still need to be trained, medical monitoring is still required, and employers still need to develop a written exposure control plan. In addition, the construction standard requires employers to designate a competent person to go to the job sites, to make sure the exposure control plan is implemented.

For general industry, medical surveillance is required if employees are exposed above the action level of 0.025 mg/m3. For construction, it’s required if employees need to wear respirators for 30 or more days per year. Why the difference? General industry exposures are expected to be consistent. For construction, they’ll vary depending on the task and control measures used.

One of the concerns we’ve had about general industry standards for silica exposure is that those standards are written for a predictable environment. Public Works employees usually don’t do construction work. But they have some exposures that resemble construction – for instance, repairing a concrete sidewalk. The new standard provides for that, allowing employers to comply with the construction standard if the task is one of those listed in the construction standard and if it isn’t “performed regularly in the same environment and conditions.” So as long as our sidewalk repair is done wet, we can be confident that we’re in compliance with the standard.

Construction employers have a year to begin to comply with the standard. General industry has two years, and even longer for some aspects, such as implementing engineering controls.  It’s about time.

Minnesota will need to adopt the new standard. I’d expect MnOSHA to act quickly on this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spray cans

We use them all the time, and then, when they’re empty or stop working, we often throw them in the trash without a second thought. But is that the right thing to do?

Most spray cans (aerosol cans, to give them their proper name) contain organic solvents and a propellant, the substance that keeps them under pressure and allows them to spray out as a mist. Some use carbon dioxide as a propellant. But the most common propellant: propane and isobutane. Those are extremely flammable (ever try to make a flame thrower with hair spray? Don’t do it – it’s playing with fire. The reason it works isn’t because of the hair spray as much as it is the propellant).

If you throw that can away before it’s completely empty, you create a fire hazard for those who handle it downstream. And you may be polluting the groundwater, if the container ends up in a landfill. The solvents in aerosol cans are often regulated as hazardflammable aerosols oldHBous waste.

What are your options?

If possible, use up the container completely. And then check that it’s really empty before you toss it and grab the next can. Shake it – can you hear any liquid? Try to spray some out. Will anything come out? Try it upside down, sideways, and then right-side up again. If you get nothing when you depress the nozzle and you hear nothing when you shake the can, it’s safe to throw away. We’d prefer it if you recycle the metal. But it can go in ordinary trash if your waste hauler okays that.

What if you can’t use it up completely? The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) used to allow the containers to be punctured and drained, as long as you used a charcoal filter to capture the vapors. But those filters don’t capture the propellants. As of January 2017, puncturing aerosol cans is not allowed, unless you have a way to collect both the liquid in the can and the propellant used to pressurize it.

The MPCA will allow businesses to handle aerosol cans as universal wastes. Those are hazardous wastes that are so common that special, less restrictive rules have been developed to handle them. Fluorescent lamps are an example of universal waste.

If you handle aerosols as universal waste, you need to:

  • Keep them in a closed container, labeled as “Waste aerosols.”
  • Store them for no more than a year. Mark the container with the date you first put the aerosol cans into it.
  • Ship the waste cans to a site that has agreed to accept them.
  • Keep receipts (this depends in part on where you are. We recommend doing so in all cases, as that’s your proof that you’re handling them correctly).

You don’t need to use a hazardous waste manifest for these.

Bottom line: use it up and recycle, if you can.

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Life can change in an instance

That title might be cliche, but when it comes to safety, it is true. We have recently had the unfortunate opportunity to investigate several serious injuries. Some injuries could be prevented if the employee took one second or ten seconds to think about what he was about to do, to shut down the equipment and make sure it came to complete stop. Not taking those precious few seconds resulted in hours (or days) away from work for a trip to the hospital and recovery.

Worse, it will impact the employee for the rest of his life. Think about it. Which finger are you willing to lose to a piece of equipment? What body part are you willing to live without? How would your family be impacted if you had a spinal cord injury?

Most recently, we saw how a motor vehicle accident changed lives. Distracted driving, use (or lack of use) of seatbelts, weather conditions, other drivers–those can all end up impacting you.

While it would be great to wrap everyone in bubble wrap to keep you safe, that is obviously not realistic. But, you can watch out for yourself and your co-workers. We want you to stay safe out there.

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Wild Parsnip

Summer brings out the best in Minnesota–mosquitoes, wasps, poison ivy and wild parsnip. I did not know about wild parsnip until a few years ago, when Janet told me about it. Fortunately, I have not had a personal encounter with it.

What is the big deal with wild parsnip? It is an invasive species that grows along the side of roadways. It is a yellow flowering plant, growing from 6″ to 4′ high. You won’t feel much if you rub up against it. Until you see sunlight. When skin that has been in contact with wild parsnip is exposed to sunlight, the skin will burn and blister. This is a big deal for anyone working along roadways, for bicyclists who stop alongside a road, or anyone else who may stop or walk along areas that have wild parsnip.

The Minnesota DNR has a page dedicated to this plant: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/herbaceous/wildparsnip.html

Stay safe.

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Changes at CHESS

I’ve been behind in my blog posts, mostly because we’ve been so busy. The great news is that CHESS has added two new staff members: Dawn Billstrom and YaVone Wirtz. Dawn has worked for utilities departments and brings a great worker perspective. She completed a certificate program in safety through Hennepin Technical College. We are looking forward to her assistance with clients, especially with job hazard analyses.

YaVone worked for the Department of Public Safety and completed a paralegal program. Our clients will probably hear from YaVone when she calls to set up training.

So, with all these changes, look for more regular blog posts.

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Bypassing safety doesn’t save time or money

I just read  a recent OSHA news release about two employees who were killed and another who was severely burned at a US Steel plant in Alabama.  The article said “Management knew that attempting to operate the valve while the furnace was still running placed workers at risk, yet they allowed them to do it because they didn’t want the production line down for hours,” said Ramona Morris, OSHA’s area director in Birmingham. “This employer chose productivity over the safety of its workers, and two people died as a result of this decision.”

So, did the company save time by bypassing safety?  I’m guessing the plant had to be shut down while investigations occurred and damage was repaired.  That didn’t save any time.

I recall a supervisor who initially complained about his employees being so busy that they didn’t have time for safety training or to get the devices (carts, lifts, etc.) to help employees do their jobs.  And then one of his employees hurt his back and was out of work for several weeks.  So, they ran very short staffed during that time.  Did they save time or money by bypassing safety?  No.  And the supervisor recognized the impact it had on his employees.   Having a full staff take a little extra time to do things safely was a lot more productive than having fewer staff because someone is out with an injury.

And, the US Steel plant?  The $107,000 in OSHA penalties is just the beginning of the costs.

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Preventing work related vehicle crashes

I have been sadly amazed at the number of motor vehicle crashes I’ve read about in the newspaper recently.  While I don’t know the cause of all of them, at least one crash with multiple fatalities was linked to distracted driving (posting to Facebook while driving).  Whether it is medication, fatigue, or electronic devices (GPS, smartphones, email, Facebook, texting), distracted driving is a leading cause of vehicle crashes.

The National Institute on Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) recently published a guide for employers to develop programs and policies to keep employees safe while driving.  The document can be found here.

CHESS can also help develop fleet safety programs and policies.

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